Addressing Mobility Issues with the Square Foot Gardening Method

Reader Contribution by Brian L. Fuder
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“I would love to garden, but my knees won’t let me.” “I wish I could garden, but my wheelchair won’t let me.” “I don’t have trouble getting down to garden, it’s getting back up.”

What is holding you back from enjoying gardening?

I have personally heard each one of these statements and many more being made by people who once enjoyed gardening, those who never have gardened, and those who would love to garden again. I don’t have all the answers or solutions, but I do have a couple of tips, tricks, and ideas that can make gardening a possibility.

For several years now, I have worked to design and build gardens that allow people with mobility issues to enjoy gardening. My mission at Square Foot Gardening for the Red River Valley is to “provide gardening and its benefits to all, regardless of ability.”

We all age, and with that we discover that things and especially joints and backs don’t allow us the freedom to move as freely as we once could. Some people are restricted to wheelchairs and don’t do well in the soils found in traditional gardens. Our vision is not what it once was, or we never had it. There seems to be an endless number of excuses we can find to eliminate gardening from our vocabulary. I hope to shed some light on these issues and help you find a solution for yourself, your loved ones, or the sweet lady next door to enjoy gardening and all the benefits tied to it.

Several years ago, I was asked if I could build a garden that would allow wheelchair access for a young man paralyzed in a motor vehicle accident. I said I would think about it and see if I could come up with a solution. A couple of challenges needed to be met: First, the garden would have to be elevated to allow easy wheelchair access. Second, the garden would have to be small enough to be reached from a seated position. And third, it needed to be able to vigorously produce healthy vegetables.

I went back to a method of gardening that I have always been interested in, Square Foot Gardening. This method was derived by Mel Bartholomew over 40 years ago, and I have always practiced many of the methods for years with a great success, that was the method that needed to be used to insure good productivity, and some of the size issues.

Now, I needed to get the height and reach just right. After a few trials I came up with what I call the Elevated Square Foot Garden. This garden is roughly 3-foot-square and at the top is 36 inches and has a clear opening of 29 inches for chair accessibility.

This garden configuration worked quite well for the young gentleman and he told me, “You should market these gardens and sell them.” Thanks for the recommendation.

There are many details that are missing from this story, but I intend to give you al the details I can through upcoming posts and hopefully you will contact me with questions and comments, and I will do my best to answer them. I will also visit with you more about what is known as “Horticultural Therapy,” and how gardening can provide healthful benefits to individuals far above and beyond healthy eating.

I appreciate the opportunity to provide and share information with you, and remember, “Keep Those Fingers Dirty!”

Brian L. Fuderis a certified Square-Foot Gardening Instructor who builds gardens that are wheelchair-accessible and mobility-issue friendly. His business, Square Foot Gardening for the Red River Valley, is an approved vendor of products for the Square Foot Gardening Foundation. Follow Brian’s activities on Facebookand atSemper Fi Fund.

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